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Sex, Drugs, and Rock ’n’ Roll: The Science of Hedonism and the Hedonism of Science

by Zoe Cormier

One doesn’t expect a volume entitled Sex, Drugs, and Rock ’n’ Roll to double as a science textbook, but “Guerilla Scientist” Zoe Cormier’s debut attempts a unique twofer: it wants to have its MDMA-laced cake and eat it too.

unnamedNeatly split into three rollicking, intermittently illustrated sections that separately analyze the biology and neurochemistry of its titular topics, Sex, Drugs, and Rock ’n’ Roll puts hedonistic behaviour under the microscope, gathering anecdotes about everything from avian genitalia (which is where the illustrations come in handy) to the pitching career of Major League Baseball player Dock Ellis to the composition of Fleetwood Mac’s “Tusk.” This is all in the service of Cormier’s thesis, which is that human beings have generally been elevated by what moralists would consider base pursuits. Or, as she puts it in her introduction: “science would have never progressed, were it not for these insatiable drives.”

Canadian-born Cormier’s loose, conversational writing style betrays her defection to the U.K. (she makes reference to things that she’s seen on the “telly,” for instance), and at times the prose seems a bit wobbly, as if she’s in such a rush to get to her next point she can’t be bothered to tie off the loose ends of her thoughts.

But beyond her reverence for those scientists who challenged orthodoxy en route to breakthroughs in the areas of evolution, reproduction, and disease prevention (including more than a few out-and-out hedonists, from Masters and Johnson to Alexander Shulgin), Cormier shows no fear in skewering sacred cows, including LSD poster boy Timothy Leary, whom she dismisses as “unbearably boring.” She also opens up about her own experiments with mind-altering substances, which play out as half-comic, half-harrowing (at one point she’s convinced she’s covered in grasshoppers).

It’s this headlong excitement about the depth and diversity of scientific research into the pleasure principle – whether in the form of orgasms or the nearly indistinguishable highs of chemical or auditory stimulation – that gives Sex, Drugs, and Rock ’n’ Roll its kick.